It was twenty years ago this month that I left the bike business. I can’t remember the exact date in October 1993, but I do remember it was October. I had not planned to retire, and I could have gone on for many more years, but I was forced out of business (Strange as it may seem now.) by the mountain bike.
I had a good run through the 1980s, at the height of my production I had as many as six employees, and together we produced 25 frames a month. The employees prepared and fed me materials so I could concentrate on brazing the frames together. My employees also did most of the finish work and I employed a full time painter.
As long as I could sell 20 or 25 frames a month I had a very lucrative little business. But by the late 1980s, early 1990s the mountain bike was becoming more and more popular and as a result sales of road frames were dropping rapidly.
At first there were separate road bike enthusiasts, and mountain bike enthusiasts, and there were separate mountain bike builders catering for the MTB crowd. Over the years these mountain bike builders had each built up a following, which made it tough for someone like me to suddenly switch and break into that market. I did produce a mountain bike, (Picture above.) but honestly I hated it, and my heart was not in it.
I had spent a great deal of time and money attending the Interbike Show every year, and as a result I had built up a nationwide network of bicycle dealers. When these dealers switched from selling road bikes to mountain bikes I felt betrayed, like someone whose spouse had left for a new love. In hindsight I realize that bike store owners had to do whatever they needed to do to stay in business. It was nothing personal.
I was not the only one effected by the road bike slump. There was a company in Florida named “Ten Speed Drive Imports” that had imported Italian bikes, frames and equipment since the 1970s. A good friend of mine was a sales rep for Ten Speed Drive in Colorado. He told me by 1993 he would walk into bike stores that had previously been regular customers for many years, they told him, “Don’t even open your order book, we are not selling road bikes anymore.” Ten Speed Drive went belly up, about the same time I left the business.
Had the Internet been in place as it is today, I may have survived as a one man business, selling direct to the few hard core road bike enthusiasts that remained. But that wasn’t the case. By early 1993 things were so bad, I was down to two employees, Russ Denny, who had been my apprentice since 1985, and another young guy who was my painter.
When I did my taxes in April 1993 my accountant told me, “I have some good news, and some bad news. The good news is, you didn’t make enough in 1992 to pay taxes, the bad news is, last year your employees made more than you did.”
It was obvious that I could not continue in this way, I was ready to liquidate all the equipment and walk away. Russ begged me not to do that, and I felt somewhat obligated because he came to me aged 18, straight out of high school and now at 26 years, framebuilding was the only thing he knew. I allowed the two to stay on, unpaid, and they survived by doing freelance work.
By October 1993 I could no longer pay the rent and support myself. I was thoroughly burned out and hated the bike business and anything to do with bikes for that matter. I turned the whole operation over to Russ Denny. As a single young man, he was able to survive by giving up his apartment, and sleeping on a mattress in the frame shop. Which I’m sure was against all regulations.
I was not prepared to live at that level of poverty. I went on to take a job as a production manager with a company that manufactured bowling equipment, and I actually made some good money for a change.
Looking back, I have no regrets. I have a body of work out there that has survived longer than my California business. As long as people are interested, I will continue to write here and maintain my bike registry. Above all I can enjoy riding a bike, something I could not do while I was engaged in the bicycle business.
Today I am a writer and songwriter. I make a small amount from freelance writing, and when people hear my music, some say, “Why don’t you go to Nashville and try to sell your songs?” To that I would answer. “No thank you.” The bicycle business drove me to hate the bicycle, for many years I did not own or ride one. I love my music and the people it brings me in touch with, I will not allow the music business to drive me to hate it.